Publish date:
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1955

ACLU says it will contest obscenity of "Howl"

The American Civil Liberties Union announces it will defend Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl against obscenity charges.

The U.S. Customs Department had seized some 520 copies of the book several weeks earlier as the book entered the U.S. from England, where it had been printed. Poet Allen Ginsberg had first read the title poem, Howl, at a poetry reading in the fall of 1956 to enormous acclaim from his fellow Beat poets. The poem’s racy language, frank subject matter, and lack of form offended some conservative readers, but to young people in the 1960s, it sounded a call to revolt against convention. Along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the poem served as the reference manual and rallying cry for a new generation. Ginsberg himself coined the term “flower power.”

After the seizing of Howl, American publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti announced he would publish it in the U.S. After its publication, he was arrested and tried for promoting obscene material. The ACLU successfully defended both Ferlinghetti and the book at Ferlinghetti’s trial, calling on nine literary experts to render an opinion on the book’s merits. Ferlinghetti was found not guilty.

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